What is SSID password?
The term Viral SSID has started to emerge across media as a potent security threat for WiFi computers. However, the current understanding of the causes and implications of this phenomenon is unclear. This article demystifies the concept of viral SSIDs.
Like a virus spreads from an infected host to a healthy host infecting the latter, a viral SSID spreads from an infected wireless-enabled computer to another. Technically, a viral SSID is the network name (SSID) of an ad-hoc or peer-to-peer network connected over WiFi. In contrast, the non-viral SSIDS are the network names of the infrastructure networks (comprising of Access Points that a WiFi client can connect to).
The spread of a viral SSID can primarily be attributed to the wireless auto configuration utility in the current laptops. Whenever a user connects to wireless network, its SSID is added in a list of known network names. In windows machines, this list is called the Preferred Network List (PNL). This list includes the viral SSIDs to which a user may have connected. In fact, a user need not manually connect to a viral SSID for it to be added to the list. In certain auto-configuration utilities, there are options where a user can choose to connect to any network in vicinity (be it infrastructure or ad-hoc).
When the user moves to a different location and starts the computer, the wireless auto configuration utility tries to look for the SSIDs stored in the PNL. When it doesnt find any infrastructure networks mentioned in the list in its neighborhood, it starts looking for ad-hoc networks stored in the PNL. If it does find one, it connects to the host advertising the corresponding SSID. However, if it does not, it becomes the first node of that ad-hoc network and starts advertising the viral SSID.
If an unsuspecting healthy laptop is searching for wireless networks in vicinity, it will see the advertised viral SSID in its list. If the laptop is configured to connect to any wireless network as it comes in range, it will attach itself to the corresponding network. The connection can also be made when an unsuspecting user manually connects to an advertised viral SSID. As soon as this connection is made, the viral SSID appears in the PNL of the healthy laptop and it gets infected.
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